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Wednesday, 12 October 1910

Senator ST LEDGER (QUEENSLAND) - I think there is. As has been pointed out by Senator Chataway, there have been two opportunities when we might have discussed this very important question.

Senator Findley - An opportunity will not be denied.

Senator ST LEDGER - We have been deprived of those opportunities hitherto by the action of the Government.

Senator Findley - The questions could not be fairly discussed until they had been considered by the Government.

Senator ST LEDGER - Senator Findley,who represents the Minister of Home Affairs, cannot dispute the proposition that his colleague, the Vice-President of the Executive Council) told us last week that we should have an opportunity of discussing this matter on the day after his statement was made. At a later stage Senator Findley himself gave notice of motion. But yesterday, for some - reason which is not apparent, and which can hardly be considered creditable to the Administration, when we came here expecting that the required opportunity would be furnished to us, the motion of which he had given notice was allowed to lapse. What is the procedure now contemplated? Presumably the Government have discussed the census questions themselves. They are now to be submitted to the Executive Council for approval ; after which the questions will take the form of regulations as required by the Census Act. Those regulations will then be submitted to the Senate and the other House simultaneously. The only chance under that procedure-

Senator Pearce - There is no chance of wasting time under that procedure, is there?

Senator ST LEDGER - There is no chance of debating the matter properly. We cannot discuss the questions fairly until we have seen them. The Government may submit a formal motion for the adoption of the regulations.

Senator Givens - That is not necessary.

Senator ST LEDGER - I was going to point that out. Under the Acts Interpretation Act, regulations laid on the table have the force of law if not dissented from within a certain time.

Senator Pearce - What does the honorable senator wish to do? Does he wish to alter the regulations, or to talk about them?

Senator ST LEDGER - To alter them, if necessary.

Senator Pearce - The course we propose to adopt will give the honorable senator an opportunity to do that.

Senator ST LEDGER - In what way? The Government may merely lay the regulations on the table, and it may be left to some member of the Senate to submit a motion that they be disagreed with, or that they be amended in some way.

Senator Pearce - I gave honorable senators a definite promise that if such regulations were tabled they would be given an opportunity to discuss them. What more do they want?

Senator ST LEDGER - The Minister will pardon me for saying that, in view of the remarkably curious attitude which the Government have adopted in this matter, he can scarcely expect honorable senators on this side to take his word without something more.

Senator Lynch - There is no occasion for that statement.

Senator ST LEDGER - I regret to have to make it, but I think the attitude of the Government in connexion with this matter justifies a comment which in other circumstances would not be courteous.

Senator Pearce - I am prepared to put my word against the honorable senator's at any time, and fifty persons out of sixty would accept it before they would accept the honorable senator's word.

Senator ST LEDGER - If the Minister wants to place himself upon a pinnacle of perfection, and, by insinuation, to place me at the bottom of the pedestal, I have no objection ; but I think that my criticism is justified in the circumstances.

Senator Pearce - The honorable senator is a nice fellow to say that he will not take a man's word.

Senator Sayers - We accepted Senator McGregor's word the other day.

Senator Pearce - I resent such a statement coming from that quarter.

Senator ST LEDGER -I cannot understand why the Minister of Defence should try to make this matter personal.

Senator Pearce - Because the honorable senator has already done so in saying that he would not take my word.

Senator ST LEDGER - I shall give the honorable senator an example of a generosity he has not extended to me by saying that if I made any remark which may be taken to imply a personal reflection! upon him, I did not intend to do so; and I unqualifiedly withdraw it.

Senator Pearce - I said that the Government would give honorable senators an opportunity to discuss the regulations, and the honorable senator said he was not prepared to take my word.

Senator ST LEDGER - I said nothing of the kind. 1 am afraid the honorable senator is becoming nervy over this matter. I say that if the Minister of Defence, on behalf of the Government, gives the Senate an assurance that an opportunity will be afforded to discuss the regulations, and, if necessary, to alter them, I shall accept it unreservedly ; but in the circumstances surrounding the matter up to the present the honorable senator can scarcely blame me for saying that we require something more than his definite assurance. What is there discourteous to the Minister personally in that statement? It may be that the VicePresident of the Executive Council found that he was unable to follow the course which he assured the Senate would be taken in the matter. If that can be shown to be so, every honorable senator on this side will be perfectly satisfied. But I point out that when the regulations are tabled we may not be given a proper opportunity to discuss them. When the Minister says that the Government will give us an opportunity to do so, I accept his assurance unreservedly.

Senator Pearce - If it is accepted, what is the object of the motion for the adjournment of the Senate?

Senator ST LEDGER - Perhaps the honorable senator will permit me to complete my sentence. I should like him to accompany his assurance by a statement that when the regulations are tabled the Government will submit a formal motion in connexion with them.

Senator Pearce - That is absolutely impossible. Such a thing is never done.

Senator ST LEDGER - Then the Opposition will have to find an opportunity to see that it is done.

Senator Pearce - I have said that we will give honorable senators the opportunity.

Senator ST LEDGER - I regret that the Minister should have taken any remarks of mine as a personal reflection upon him. Now that we know that the regulations dealing with the census papers are to be placed on the table, it will be for the Senate as a whole to find a way in which to deal exhaustively with the whole question.

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